KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Not even President Obama could resist taking a shot at the Chiefs offense when he was in Kansas City last week.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith completed one pass that traveled more than 10 yards in last Thursday’s win at Philadelphia, prompting the nation’s first fan to brag that his beloved Chicago Bears “are actually able to pass more than 10 yards.”
But Obama missed the point.
Smith may have not thrown it deep, but he averaged 12.4 yards per completion against the Eagles, largely because of one of the most important facets of the Chiefs’ high-percentage passing game: Yards after the catch. Or YAC.
Of the Chiefs’ 273 passing yards against the Eagles, 194 — or 71 percent — came after the catch, including 100 of Donnie Avery’s 141 yards.
For the season, the Chiefs have accumulated 386 of their 669 receiving yards after the catch — or 58 percent.
“You want yards after the catch,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “That’s especially important in the short and intermediate game. If you can break a tackle or get your shoulders squared back up and get yourself upfield … (because) if you run sideways in this league, that’s tough. There are a lot of fast guys in this league. “
Few are faster than Avery, who has 4.25 speed in the 40 and was signed as a free agent by the Chiefs as a vertical, downfield threat to complement Dwayne Bowe.
Avery, 5 feet 11 and 200 pounds, showed his ability to make yards after the catch in the season opener at Jacksonville when he caught a quick 3-yard out, shook off a tackle and breezed in for a 5-yard touchdown.
At Philadelphia, Avery turned two short receptions into two the biggest plays of the 26-16 victory. In the second quarter, on a third-and-five, Avery caught a 3-yard pass across the middle, eluded cornerback Cary Williams near the 40 and turned it into a 51-yard gain, setting up a Chiefs field goal.
And in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs were nursing a seven-point lead and facing third down at their 5 when Smith hit Avery on a short crossing pattern that he turned into a 15-yard gain.
“It’s great … a quarterback’s best friend,” Smith said of the Chiefs’ yards after catch. “You love them. You need that in a passing game here and there, and we had a lot of yards after the catch (Thursday), so it was great.”
Avery has caught 11 passes for 190 yards, and his 17.3-yard average per catch ranked third in the AFC among receivers with at least 10 catches entering Monday night’s game. He’s on pace to post the highest mark since Eddie Kennison averaged 17.5 yards per catch in 2004.
“I’m happy whether it’s a 5-yard catch or a long pass,” Avery said. “I just care about the win. My focus in that game was to make sure you make the third-down catch and get upfield and try to get the first down. By reading pre-snap coverages, you know what you have to get to get the first down.
“Once you have chemistry with a quarterback … and once a quarterback can trust you, it’s a great thing. I just happened to pop open for him at certain times.”
Avery’s 107 yards after catch rank second on the team to running back Jamaal Charles, who leads with 18 catches for 151 yards, including 127 after the catch.
Charles takes a running back’s mentality to gaining yards after the catch.
“You try your best to catch the ball and make somebody miss every time you catch the ball,” Charles said. “That’s the goal, always make the first guy miss.”
Even after a receiver breaks a tackle or eludes the first defender, the key to more YAC is downfield blocking by his teammates.
“Everybody is doing their part running down field,” wide receiver Dwayne Bowe said. “After catches, guys on the outside are doing their job, springing the other guys loose. It’s the physical-ness and toughness this offense has, and that’s what Andy Reid (stresses), blocking downfield.
“When you have guys who are playmakers and make guys miss, and you have physical guys on the outside who can block, we’re doing everything we can to win.”
It’s not just the fast guys who are making yards after the catch. Against Jacksonville, fullback Anthony Sherman had 43 of his 44 yards after the catch, and against Philadelphia, tight end Sean McGrath had 14 of his 31 yards after the catch.
“As soon as you catch the ball, you want to get a foot in the ground and get straight upfield,” McGrath said. “A lot of the receivers do a great job of that. They’re so fast and slippery, defenders can’t get their arms on them. It’s always a point of emphasis.”
McGrath has no issue with Smith throwing short passes, because that’s where he would be targeted the most, on shallow drag patterns or as a safety valve after helping block a linebacker.
“I’ll take him throwing underneath all day,” McGrath said with a laugh. “Alex has done a great job of going through his progression and reading. He’s going to hit the open man, no matter if it’s a receiver, tight end or a running back.”
Reid said he expects to mix a blend of deep balls with the short ones as the season moves on. But he has no issues with Smith trying to turn 5-yard passes into 50. The Chiefs have nine pass plays of 20-plus yards compared to their opponents’ eight.
“I don’t care about that stuff,” Reid said. “I care about points, I care about turnovers … you saw when everything was on the line, (Smith) was pretty doggone good.”